The sound of four explosions came down the phone line. A woman could be heard screaming in the background: "Come and save us." This was in the middle of an interview with a Red Crescent ambulance official. He said the woman's house had been hit by rockets fired from an Israeli helicopter.
These were the voices that came out of Jenin refugee camp yesterday when it came under the heaviest attack since the Israeli army began its onslaught in the West Bank. The accounts are chilling: stories of Israeli forces using the elderly as human shields in front of their tanks, of women and children being rounded up, of homes being demolished, of bodies littering the streets.
These allegations cannot be confirmed, because of the censorship imposed by the Israeli authorities, who have refused journalists access to the camp. They are the claims made by those inside the refugee camp, speaking by mobile phone, and those who have recently fled.
Abu Hussein, a 55-year-old man inside the camp, said: "They used women and old men as human shields. They were walking in front of the tanks and a bulldozer was destroying the houses on both sides." Apparently the houses were bulldozed to clear a path for tanks through the narrow alleys an old tactic of Ariel Sharon when he was commander of the army in the Gaza Strip in the Seventies.
Mr Hussein said he was sheltering in two rooms with 40 others. "The soldiers entered my neighbor's house," he said. "They killed him. His body is there for more than five days. Six missiles hit a three-floor building, just 200 meters away from my house. The house was full of families. I do not know how many people were there."
A senior source in the Israeli military was quoted in the newspaper Ha'aretz yesterday as saying Israeli troops had killed almost 100 Palestinians in Jenin in the past few days.
Helicopters flew over the camp all day yesterday, pounding it with rockets. Abdullah Abu Atiya, who fled from Jenin, said: "They demolished all the houses in Hawashin neighborhood. There are many dead people in the streets. There were many wounded crying in pain. Nobody can help them. Nobody can get the dead bodies from destroyed houses."
The Israeli authorities have been refusing to allow ambulances access to the wounded, which is a war crime under the Geneva conventions. The Red Cross said yesterday it was working to get the Israelis to allow ambulances in. Eventually, three ambulances were permitted. Each was only allowed to bring out one person.
The Red Cross said five ambulances were fired on in the area around Jenin and Nablus yesterday.
"The missiles were falling on the camp like rain," said Ghassan Rabayaa, an ambulance driver. He could be overheard shouting into a walkie-talkie: "Mariam Wishahi and her son are dead." Just before the line went dead he said: "I can see many wounded in the square."
Dr Ahmed Rozeh, whose house overlooks the camp, claimed he saw between 40 and 50 women and children being rounded up by soldiers after their houses were demolished. He said all the landlines to the camp had been destroyed.
"For six days, I cannot reach my sister who lives in the camp. There is no water, no electricity and no food in the camp." There were even claims that some in the camp had resorted to drinking sewage.
© 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd